Many meat items have holiday driven or seasonal peaks in demand. For example, turkeys at Thanksgiving, chicken wings and the Super Bowl, hamburgers in grilling season, and lamb at Spring religious holidays. Christians, Jews, and Muslims have holidays where lamb may feature and we are now in the midst of those Spring holidays.
Live lamb prices hit record highs in 2021 and early 2022 due to relatively tight supplies and the continued strong demand due to people trying new food items during the pandemic. As consumers returned to their normal habits following the pandemic and budgets tightened due to inflation, lamb demand contracted and prices collapsed. More lamb supplies are also pressuring lamb prices lower this year. Of course, imported lamb plays a large role in lamb supplies.
Average light weight 60-70 pound lambs in San Angelo, TX (the largest lamb auction market in the U.S.) averaged $230-$240 per cwt last week compared to $340-$350 per cwt last year. These are light weight lambs heading to a meat packer. Prices typically peak a couple of weeks before Easter and then decline as the holiday demand passes. Currently, It looks like prices have already hit their seasonal peak.
Wholesale lamb prices have declined along with live lamb prices. Lamb leg prices were $4.10 per pound last week compared to $5.87 at this time last year. Wholesale rack of lamb is about $2.00 pound cheaper than last year at $11.52. Lower retail prices have begun to show up in special features at grocery stores.
Over the last two decades, an important shift has occurred in lamb markets. A “non-traditional” market has emerged driven by growing ethnic markets, direct sales to consumers, and some direct to restaurant trade. Hair sheep breeds replacing wool breeds have aided some of this change. Hair sheep breeds are allowing producers in the South to enter this market again. Statistics on sheep numbers for most Southern states were discontinued back in the 1970s as fewer and fewer sheep were in the South. It appears that growing non-traditional markets are providing some opportunities for farmers in the South.